WINTHROP — When Mary Jane Auns had her grandson visit this summer from Southlake, Texas, she wanted to give him a Maine experience. 

A Maranacook Lake fishing trip.

To do so, she borrowed the fishing poles from her library. 

Mary Jane Auns talks about the nontraditional lending items available for borrowing on Friday at Charles M. Bailey Library in Winthrop. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

This summer, the Charles M. Bailey Public Library in Winthrop expanded its collection of nontraditional items — like bird-watching kits, Roku’s, a drill, toolbox, cake and muffin pans and even a ukulele. 

Using a Bailey Library fishing pole, which was donated to the library by Audette’s Hardware, Auns’s grandson, Claudio, who is 10, reeled in several perch and sunfish. 

“My (late) husband would have been very proud to see him catch those fish,” said Auns, who is a library trustee. 

Bailey Library lent its first nontraditional item in the 1980s when it offered Polaroid cameras, said Richard Fortin, the library director. The program reinvigorated the program in 2015 with snowshoes. 

The snowshoe lending was first offered by Winthrop Plays Outside. 

The organization was lending the snowshoes from the trunk of a car, Fortin said. 

“I approached them and said, ‘Let us help with that,’” he said. “We are in the business of lending.”

Winthrop Plays Outside was awarded a grant, and the collection grew from six or eight, he said, to around 40. In the winter, those snowshoes are almost always checked out. 

Holly Baldwin and her son Bryton, 10, have borrowed multiple nontraditional items, including the bird-watching kits, which include field binoculars, Maine bird identification books and electronic bird calls. 

“Anything that allows children to get off electronics and adults off their phones and into the nature and the community is great,” said Baldwin. “Our local library goes above and beyond giving us a whole host of opportunities. I look forward to anything that will be added in the future.”

For patron Andrew Blanchard, nontraditional lending helped him see a film that was not available at the library or via inter-library loan. Fortin found the movie on the streaming video platform, Kanopy, to which the library subscribes. 

Blanchard was reluctant to download the Kanopy app, but when he learned it would be free with his library card, he gave it a try. 

Kanopy, which can only be utilized by libraries and universities, not the general public, like Netflix, had movies “that were right up my alley,” Blanchard said. 

“I consider it a resource that I cannot find anywhere else,” he said. 

While Bailey seems to be leading the charge with nontraditional lending in Kennebec County, other libraries are adding objects and subscriptions to their circulation, too. 

The Belgrade Public Library has a telescope to lend. Gardiner Public Library gives patrons access to the library version of Ancestry. The Dr. Shaw Memorial Library in Mt. Vernon has a seed exchange, lends baking supplies and has a tool lending program in the works. Lithgow Public Library in Augusta, Bailey, and others lend state park and museum passes.

Outside of Kennebec Valley, Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick lends film slide photo converters, crafting kits, gardening and pruning kits, chess sets and board games.  

But books are not on their way out of libraries. 

“I think the nature of a library being literacy-based is not going to change,” Fortin said.

Libraries are more important than ever, he thinks, especially for development of children as they learn to read.

“Younger families who have children want print books,” he said. “Their kids are already on the screen all the time, and it is important for them to see the written word.”

He said the Bailey circulates about 4,000 books a month, but only 200 e-books. The demographic of e-book readers, he said, is almost exclusively senior citizens. He speculated this may be because e-books are more convenient for travel.

But patrons need and like more than just books.

Fortin said that his library’s mission is to meet the needs of the community regardless of format. So, when he looked at under-served populations in Winthrop, he considered the needs of area nonprofits, civic organizations and small businesses. 

“They need things like projectors,” Fortin said, “but they might not have the budget for it.”

A ukulele and fishing poles, seen on Friday, are some of the nontraditional items available to borrow from the Charles M. Bailey Public Library in Winthrop. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

It appears that nontraditional lending might be the new direction for his library.

In a decade, Fortin sees his library rearranging its space to accommodate more objects to lend. Instead of having 30,000 books in the Bailey Library collection, he imagined it may have 20,000 with more space allocated to objects. 

“The idea is to create lifelong library users,” Fortin said. “We want to introduce them to the wealth of library resources … and get them in the habit of using the library.” 

For small libraries with small spaces and small budgets, offering nontraditional lending is more challenging. 

“Nontraditional lending is something we might consider doing in the future,” said Michele Briggs, the director of the Underwood Memorial Library in Fayette. “But we are a small library, and our budget is limited.”

The Cary Memorial Library in Wayne offers jigsaw puzzles, but director Janet Adelberg says she has to swap out what is on display because space in the library is so limited. 

“We only serve around 1,100 people year round,” she said. 

She added that the library subscribes to the Maine State Library’s e-book and audio book download program. 

“The state library makes it affordable even for small libraries like Cary,” she said. 

Borrowing nontraditional items from Bailey Library is just like borrowing a book. Patrons need to have a library card. To have a library card for free, they must be a resident or work in Winthrop or attend its public schools. Others who reside out of town may use the library, but have to pay fees to do so.

Unlike three weeks for a book or video, nontraditional items are lent for one week, But just like books, nontraditional items may be renewed if there is not someone waiting in line for the item.

The worry about loss, damage or theft of nontraditional items is no greater than other library material, Fortin said.

“There is risk (of theft) — that is the nature of being a public library,” he said. “We have a great relationship with the people who use the library, and I think people in Winthrop tend to value their library.” 

If these items are lost or damaged, patrons will be expected to compensate the library as with the loss of a book. 

Funding for the nontraditional items comes from money budgeted for circulation, along with grant money from foundations. For example, the library was able to completely purchase air quality monitors that give readings through a smartphone thanks to grant money. He said a Speck usually costs around $100.

When considering what nontraditional items to add to Bailey’s circulation, Fortin said he “just kind of thought about, what are the things that do not cost too much but that are timeless and people would see value in?”

He did note the library is not accepting unsolicited donations of items for its nontraditional collection.

“We are not looking to do that,” Fortin said. “We are looking to meet a specific information need for the biggest amount of people possible.”

Monetary donations to support the collection, however, may be given to the Friends of the Bailey Library and the Bailey Library foundation. 


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